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- Founded: Aug 1, 2001
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September 6, 2001: Odds and Ends
Where have I been of late? Well, it may seem all quiet on the Ann Arbor
front, but I'm working hard. Rabble-rousing about the future of IA on the
SIGIA-L mailing list. Prepping for my tutorials at the NN/g world tour.
Writing (yes, really) chapters for the second edition of the polar bear
book. And working on last minute details for Mary Jean's and my wedding,
which is a scant one month from today.
So back off man!
In the meantime, some miscellany:
* Remember that "berry-picking" paper by Marcia Bates that I suggested that
all IAs read? I contacted Professor Bates to see if a copy was available via
the Web. No luck, but she did point me to an abstract. Better than nada.
* Like information architecture? Like baseball? Then you're in luck. Former
Argonaut and Tvisions-naut Shawn Stemen has neatly knitted them together in
what he calls a "non-paper".
* Didn't you feel cheated when it was Natalie Boon, and not you, who won the
Gopher world tour T-shirt? Then don't let another chance pass you by: if
you're nice to Wendy Jedlicka, designer of said shirt, maybe she'll run you
a new one. Check out Wendy's site for all sorts of Gophernalia and other
* SIGIA-L mailing list :: http://www.cwa.co.nz/~andrew/hypermail/sigia-l/
* Nielsen-Norman Group world tour :: http://nngroup.com/events/
* "polar bear book" :: http://www.ora.com/catalog/infotecture/
* "berry-picking" abstract ::
* baseball and IA non-paper :: http://www.stemen.com/non-papers/baseball.htm
* Wendy Jedlicka's site :: http://www.jedlicka.com/illustration/
(Note: I debated as to whether or not to send this out so soon after the
disaster. Personally, I've been desperate for any sort of return to
normality, anything to distract from what's happened. Perhaps you are too,
and might appreciate this IA tidbit. If not, please accept my sincere
apologies. I hope your friends and family are safe; many thanks to those of
you who inquired about my family in New York (they're safe).)
September 13, 2001: New HP Wetware Product leads to Smarter Search
Avi Rappoport, of SearchTools.com fame, points me to a nice little piece of
information architecture that may be the harbinger of what would be a very
Go the Hewlett-Packard site and type "handheld" in the search box.
What's the big deal? Well, check out the three items above the results (to
the right of the binoculars icon). These aren't the product of some
programming brilliance that mere mortals can never hope to understand or
duplicate. Nope, they were put there manually. In other words, by some
The folks at HP know that automatically-generated search results have great
value, but at least for popular searches, manually-generated results may
have even greater value. So they took the trouble to implement a "best
bets" approach which, though technically fairly trivial, obviously requires
them to know something about what their users are want. (In this case,
probably not a document describing the history of the handheld calculator,
which is the first thing that the search engine produced.) Good work for an
information architect, wouldn't you say? Certainly a nice little
illustration of hybrid architecture.
The search tool vendors are also clueing in, despite their track record of
ignoring anything that smacks of manual effort, even if such efforts
directly improve the performance of the software packages they sell.
According to Avi, vendors like Microsoft SharePoint, Atomz and
Searchbutton/MondoSearch are building in this "best bets" capability. Which
is certainly a hopeful trend.
And which warms that cold black dog's breakfast of a heart that occasionally
quivers within my sunken, papery chest.
Kudos to the handful of search tool vendors that have finally started to
understand that "shrink wrap" equals crap. And even more kudos to the
information architects at HP, who've customized their version of Inktomi
Search Software (formerly Ultraseek) in-house.
SearchTools.com :: http://www.searchtools.com
Hewlett-Packard :: http://www.hp.com
September 24, 2001: More on Smarter Search Results
Greetings from deep in the heart of Texas, where I'm giving a talk
tonight at UT and enjoying the fine facilities and hospitality of the
LIS program's computer lab.
In my last entry I discussed the nice job that HP's information
architects did with integrating manually-derived results with
automated search results. A couple of you wrote in to comment on this
Matt "blackbelt" Jones was "excited and encouraged... for reasons
that will become clear in a couple of months". Reasons which he did
not not expound upon. But which I will be vigorously nagging him for
until he coughs them up. Don't play with us Matt...
Matt also pointed me to a CHI presentation by Microsoft's Susan
Dumais, Edward Cutrell and UC Berkeley's Hao Chen: "Optimizing Search
by Showing Results In Context". In a nutshell: "Our user studies show
that all Category interfaces were more effective than List interfaces
even when lists were augmented with category names for each result".
So categorized results are a Good Idea, even when categories are
automatically generated. Categorized results provide users with
greater context for the focused results that search engines provide;
this conclusion seems to support my intuition that there's lots of
room for improvements in search results presentation.
On the other hand, you might also argue that the Northern Light
search engine is not setting the world on fire. How many of you use
those Little Blue Folders regularly? Personally, I generally find
them useless. And I think it's because they're automatically
generated, not manually. But that's just me.
Anyway, here's what I think is happening. Northern Light and other
good search engines are losing out to Google. Northern Light:
interesting approach to search results presentation. Google:
interesting combination of a pattern-matching algorithm for relevance
determination and a link analysis algorithm for popularity
determination (and probably some algorithm that combines the two).
Google: more successful because it gives users a "better" first pass
retrieval, though they might also benefit from a Northern Light-style
results presentation. So perhaps an evolutionary advance in the
application of search algorithms trumps a more revolutionary advance
in search results presentation?
Well, what about a hybrid? Well, there actually seems to be one that
fits the bill perfectly: Teoma. Check it out and you decide if this
is the future of information retrieval on the Web. I sure hope so,
because I bought stock in Teoma's new parent, AskJeeves, early in
2000. Ouch. Anyway, it'll be interesting to see what comes of merging
Teoma with AskJeeves' approach, another neat idea that hasn't set the
world on fire.
Back to Bloug reader comments: Stanford's Lisa Chan used to work at
AltaVista, and points out that AV did what Hewlett-Packard is doing
now. It was called "AV Recommends" and is no longer available. Why?
Because AV laid off all those smart but expensive humans who
generated these smart recommendations. Lesson: you can't classify or
otherwise manually improve access to all web content. Something that
many of us have been grumping about for about ten years now. But HP
shows us that you can manually add value in narrower, selective
environments, like the corporate web site. In fact, HP ought to
contact Lisa to track down all the other AV alumni and put'em all
back to work...
my talk at UT ::
my last posting on smarter search ::
Matt "blackbelt" Jones :: http://www.blackbeltjones.com/
"Optimizing Search by Showing Results In Context" ::
Northern Light :: http://www.northernlight.com/
Google :: http://www.google.com/
Teoma :: http://www.teoma.com/
AskJeeves :: http://www.askjeeves.com/
September 26, 2001: Status Report to Field Operatives
To my fellow operatives and other agents of the greater cause, I bring you
especially good tidings: Phase 6 of our plan is now successfully concluded,
and the cause of world domination by the forces of the LIS Directorate is
one step closer to completion...
[read more about Phase 6 and future Phases: www.louisrosenfeld.com]
October 1, 2001: Need an ISP/Smarter Search/Marc Rettig
Bloug Needs an ISP
I've been asked by more than a few Blougies: "Why no permalinks? Why no
RSS?" My stock answer: "Not until I get GreyMatter installed (yes, I'm
still rolling my own HTML). And no GreyMatter until I find a professional
and reasonably-priced ISP to host it."
Unfortunately, I'm not sufficiently technical to evaluate ISPs or install
GreyMatter myself. So it occurred to me today that perhaps a reputable ISP
exists that already has GreyMatter up and running. Do <i>you</i> know of
one, and would you recommend it? Or have other advice? I could really use
the help. My undying love and gratitude (and a signed polar bear book) to
the successful matchmaker.
Even More on Smarter Search
Paul Kahn kicked Teoma's tires. And it was Good.
There are lots of Paul Kahns out there, and, like Google, Teoma's search
results mixes them all up. But Paul found the clustered results "by topic"
a good differentiator between him and his pale imitators. Paul writes
"...the other Paul Kahns have disappeared from the results in the folders.
They did not seem to make an impression on the BY TOPIC algorithm, even
though Paul Kahn the musician has his own record and a music production
company (I know this because we both used to live in the same town --
Medford Mass. -- and he had an unlisted phone number, so I used to get irate
calls from club owners at 9 pm on Saturday nights when the act did not show
up). I was surprised not to see a folder called Music."
Hopefully the irate calls have stopped. Anyway, it's not surprising that
Paul liked Teoma's categories; he's probably the best-represented Paul Kahn
on the Web, so those clusters are determined more by his content than the
other PKs out there. Hmmm... Maybe not so good if you were looking for
some other Paul Kahn. And it's unlikely, but what would happen if multiple
Paul Kahns work in the same general domain?
Meanwhile, UC Berkeley's Marti Hearst pointed me to a tutorial she did at
SIGIR: "Designing Information Architecture for Search". Way too much
interesting stuff to go into here, but she covers a lot of fascinating
issues, including faceted classification, berry-picking, and, of course,
search results presentation.
Marc Rettig's Latest
Marc, former CXO of HannaHodge and Very Smart Person, is teaching a
seven-week course on user-centered web design. Marc is positioning his
course as an in-between offering that's "designed to combine the depth and
intellectual stance of a university course with the accessibility and
practical bias of a conference tutorial." The course starts next week in
Chicago, and space is limited, so get going...
Noah Grey's GreyMatter Blog Software :: http://www.noahgrey.com/greysoft/
Teoma :: http://www.teoma.com
"Designing Information Architecture for Search" (Marti Hearst) ::
Marc Rettig :: www.enteract.com/~marc
Marc's course :: http://www.enteract.com/~marc/designclass
October 2, 2001: IKEA, Borders, and Information Architecture
Former Argonaut Kat Hagedorn pointed me to a short piece of hers:
"Ramblings: The IA of IKEA Stores". Kat notes that the two IKEA stores
she's visited consistently support two types of shopping experience:
known-item ("I know what I'm looking for") and open-ended ("I'm not sure
what I'm looking for"). Different parts of the store are arranged to
support these two types of information (or, in this case, furniture) needs.
I've never been to an IKEA, but I'm impressed nonetheless: creating a
multi-dimensional information space in the measly three dimensions the
universe provides us is a lot harder than doing so in the N-dimensional
world of the Web. Besides needing a bigger brain, you also need more floor
space than your competitors, which drives up your expenses quite a bit. I
assume that IKEA has been able to justify its well-reasoned (though
expensive) architecture by pointing to increased profitability. If that's
the case, it's a useful analogy for justifying the value of information
(Quick aside: if there's an information architect who knows someone who
knows someone who knows someone at IKEA, please try to validate the
assumption that good retail architecture means greater profit, even when
figuring in higher costs. Whoever does this gets a free signed polar bear
book and my undying admiration.)
And if we're going to ramble, let me ramble a little about working on the
initial Borders Books & Music site's architecture back in '95. I maintain
that if they would have followed our advice, Borders would have beaten
Amazon to the punch. Or if they'd at least not equated the Internet with CB
radio, as one of their top honchos was wont to do, their site could have
achieved minimal success. And now, of course, go to www.borders.com and
what do you find? Amazon.
Argh. How painful. And six years later, it still hurts like an absolute
bastard. After all, your first consulting gig is like your first love.
Intense, passionate, and ultimately utterly heartbreaking.
Anyway, my colleagues and I had the pleasure of being given a tour of Store
#1 by its manager, Joe Gable, who, with Tom and Louis Borders, essentially
invented the concept of the book superstore back in the early '70s.
Curmudgeonly Joe explained the relative prominence of each of the three
tiers of books laid out on the tables. He described how subject areas were
carefully positioned in relation to each other. He talked about balancing
what customers knew they wanted with books they hadn't considered before.
And he pointed out how local buying habits and demographics made each
Borders store's merchandising layout unique. I can't tell you the
specifics, but I can say that it was almost a pure and yet tangible form of
information architecture. Book merchandising is dependent on information
retrieval, marketing, and physical architecture, among other things.
Where am I going with this? Maybe that the out-of-work information
architects out there should consider working in a bookstore as a good
two-year plan, with obvious IA educational perks, until the economy
rebounds. Maybe that I'd like to work in a bookstore. Maybe that I wish
Borders had been smarter. And maybe that we all need to learn more about
OK, end of ramble.
Kat Hagedorn :: http://www-personal.si.umich.edu/~khage/
Kat's article :: http://www-personal.si.umich.edu/~khage/ikea.html
IKEA :: http://www.ikea.com
Amazon... I mean, Borders :: http://www.borders.com
October 14, 2001: More Diagrams from Jess and Me
Jess McMullin (http://www.cognissa.com/) and I have taken one last pass at
our diagram of how we see the various flavors of "post-Web information
system design" (such as information architecture) and how they relate to
established fields like merchandising and data modeling:
Of course we felt that we couldn't cram enough into the diagram, so we came
up with another:
Here we're using the old "blind men and the elephant" to make the point that
all of our new fields are just limited views of the same big and unruly
animal. Whether we're in knowledge management, CRM, or interaction design,
we're all looking to synthesize existing fields' tools, techniques, and
experiences into something new, with its own methodology and perspective, to
design increasingly complex information systems.
October 25, 2001: Optimism and Warnings
Just back today from Washington DC, where Margaret Hanley and I co-taught
two days of information architecture tutorials at the Nielsen Norman Group
conference. The attendees were bright, the discussion brilliant, and we all
laughed a lot. In fact, I actually detected a hint of optimism in the air.
Hard to believe after the year we've all had. But even post-9/11, there
seems to be something of a rebound underway in the demand for information
architecture. Sure, this is a hunch, but my IA hunches are usually pretty
good. And in this case, my hunch is based on both personal experience *and*
what I'm hearing from others.
Here's my oversimplified explanation: until roughly one year ago,
information architects were often being hired for the *wrong reasons*. Just
like everyone else in the web design biz. Companies were moving too fast,
talent was hard to come by, and employers/customers weren't very good at
discerning all these new-fangled skills anyway. Witness the confusing and
sometimes conflicting requirements that were found in both IA RFPs and IA
job postings. Anyway, it didn't really matter: your cocker spaniel
probably could have gotten a job as an information architect.
Then came the year of utter, desolate nothingness that we'd all like to
So let's fast forward to the present: we may be witnessing a new and
welcome trend of companies hiring information architects for the *right
reasons*. Powerful, expensive IT infrastructures remain, and content
continues to explode in volume and corrode in quality. Budgets haven't
completely dried up. So, after getting burned in the frenzied debacle,
companies are starting to realize that perhaps a more careful, *planned*
approach to dealing with information issues is merited. And that planning
happens to be something that information architects are very good at...
Assuming we really are turning the corner, the field is entering a new
phase. Here are some thoughts to consider as we move forward:
The End of the IA Buyer's Market: If you're a manager, take note: it may
never be as easy to find quality IA talent again as it was during 2001.
Never. As in the rest of human history. This isn't just wishful thinking;
personally, I'm already overbooked. And I honestly believe this will soon
be true for the IA "supply" as a whole.
My advice? Start stockpiling.
Eternal Vigilance against IA Gurus: As the field continues to mature, we
will surely encounter self-proclaimed gurus who spout hard rules and other
dogma, often for no other reason than self-promotion. In a field where
everything really *does depend*, such orthodoxy is oxymoronic and, as it
misleads, is ultimately harmful. So let's avoid the crap we've seen in
sister fields. Consider it your professional duty to:
1) poke holes in the dogma of all "gurus"; and
2) inoculate clients, coworkers, and the media against falling for
opinions and ideas masked as incontrovertible truths.
Skepticism is good. The alternative is bad: an intellectual coup by a few
Share or Die: During the Good Times, most IA practitioners shared
information about techniques and tools that helped them do their work.
There were, unfortunately, a few major exceptions who held their cards close
while benefiting from others' largesse. Not only did this result in less
good knowledge being shared by the community as a whole, but it was just
And probably dumb: can an IA methodology truly be "proprietary"? And if
so, could it really be that much further ahead than another? Even if it
was, by the time it could be captured, shared, and broadly understood, its
owners would have moved ahead with new ideas. (Hey, when the polar bear
book came out in early '98, Argus was already doing things *much*
Many of the culprits are kaput or have scaled way back. But now we begin
again: let's not get off on the wrong foot. If we're all smarter, we look
better as a field, which is a good thing. Besides, there will ultimately be
too much work out there for us to take on, so why be so competitive?
Nielsen Norman Group user experience conference ::
October 29, 2001: Some Notes
I'm headed for London for the next batch of IA tutorials at the Nielsen
Norman Group conference and would love to meet some local IAs. I'm planning
an informal get together Friday night 11/2 and hope you'll consider popping
by. Send me a note and let me know if you'd like to hook up.
Unfortunately, NN/g conflicts with the ASIS&T Annual Meeting, which, if you
don't happen to be in London, you should attend instead.
My longtime co-conspirator Peter Morville has started up Semantic Studios.
You would be veritably insane not to bookmark his site immediately.
And yes, Movable Type and RSS syndication are on the way. Got to nag my
pals at Studio Mobius for some help. Until then, consider joining the
blougList to keep up to date on my ramblings and shenanigans.
Nielsen Norman Group conference :: http://www.nngroup.com/events/
ASIS&T Annual Meeting :: http://www.asis.org/Conferences/AM01/index.html
Semantic Studios :: http://www.semanticstudios.com/
Movable Type :: http://www.movabletype.org
Studio Mobius :: http://www.studiomobius.com
blougList :: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/blougList
November 9, 2001: BBC Heaven
Matt Jones and a number of colleagues were kind enough to host Jeff Veen,
Margaret Hanley, and me the day before relaunching the BBC site. Incredibly
generous of them, considering the timing. And a surprisingly relaxed group,
considering the timing.
Matt talks so rapidly and intensely that you might wonder if he's managed to
become unstuck in time, suddenly freed from the forces of nature to move at
five or six times normal human cruising speed. His non-Newtonian nature
allowed him to cram an incredible number of really cool IA ideas into a 25
minute presentation, many of which will eventually make it into future
versions of the BBC's site.
This latest version includes a universal navigation bar at the top of every
page, no mean feat considering the size and distributed management of the
BBC's web environment. It also provides another example of one of my
favorite IA tricks, manually generated "best bet" search results (although
BBC prefers the label "best links," which apparently doesn't create
expectations of getting gambling advice). Here are the results for a search
[try it out:
The first two results were created by humans, the rest automagically. Nifty.
You'll also note that the results are clustered between "all of the BBC,"
"BBC News," and "BBC Sport". Clustered results are another issue we've
discussed here before, and recent research indicates that this may be a
better approach than your basic relevance-ranked result lists.
A great group at BBC is doing some impressive work; thanks for the preview
Matt Jones' site :: http://www.blackbeltjones.com/
BBC :: http://www.bbc.co.uk/
Searching the BBC site ::
Search results research ::
November 11, 2001: Wishful Thinking
With a little help from my friends, I've set up a new blog which I hope will
help get some discussion going about the sorts of things we IAs could and
should start doing as a community. By "things" I mean developing community
infrastructure for the field, ranging from tackling IA educational
certification to developing a job board to starting up a professional
I've seeded the blog with a number of ideas and hope others will add to the
list, comment on what's there, argue, and so on. And that maybe, just maybe,
some folks might find each other through this blog and start working
together on some of these projects.
OK, OK, I'm probably being over-optimistic. But, after all, I was born in
the '60s. And there's no harm in dreaming...
The new blog ("Community Infrastructure for IAs") ::
November 24, 2001: IA Summit III
The intrepid Summit program committee (Andy Dillon, Dick Hill, Gary
Marchionini, George Olsen, Vic Rosenberg, Christina Wodtke, and yours truly)
has issued a Call for Participation. Please consider submitting your finest
IA-related ideas, techniques, widgets, and other assorted brilliance.
The Summit takes place in Baltimore, Maryland, USA from March 15-17, 2002.
Never been to Baltimore? Very close to Washington DC (they share an
airport), great seafood, pretty good Italian food, and spring has usually
sprung by middle-March. Besides, many of the fine people you know from
SIGIA-L will be there in person.
ASIS&T IA Summit III Call for Participation ::
Baltimore :: http://www.baltconvstr.com/index2.htm
December 1, 2001: Damning Metadata
I can't remember which IA blog pointed me to Doug Kaye's blog, but I found
his frustration with metadata to be... well, frustrating.
I'll get into why in just a moment, but first, it's interesting to note a
bit of an anti-metadata backlash of late. The pendulum swings away: back
in the mid-90s (boy, does it feel strange to say that!), Argus would try to
sell clients on the value of developing controlled vocabularies and
thesauri. We often heard this response: "Nope, we have this great new
search engine, and it will solve all of our users' information problems. No
need to ever manually 'touch' our content." Just like that. End of
During the past year or two, a wave of painful realization swept these same
folks. The search engine snake oil had dissolved, leaving a residue of poor
performance and general dyspepsia. Now, finally believing that "Taxonomies
are Chic," they were interested in hiring Argus to create vocabularies to
describe their content. *All* of their content. Which, of course, was
entirely unrealistic. And so we went about trying to convince these people
*not* to classify everything, only the most important content.
Now there must be some sort of counter-counter-movement afoot: people
who've experimented with classification schemes, and were disappointed to
find that, yet again, there was no silver bullet to be found, just as with
search engines. I don't know if Doug Kaye is one of those poor souls
afflicted with silver bulletitis, but he is down on metadata for two
"First, every required step acts as a deterrent to the use of the system.
I've found that to be true in every software product or web-based system
with which I've been involved. In some cases (such as an on-line dating
service for which I was CTO) I've actually tested it. The more you ask, the
less likely people are to participate."
Of course, Doug is raising an important point: metadata is about *process*
as much as syntax and semantics. But intelligent metadata design doesn't
ignore procedural issues, such as how the work is going to get done and
who's going to do it. Sometimes it makes sense to have authors suggest
metadata for their own content, sometimes separate subject matter experts,
sometimes indexers, and sometimes you use software. In certain cases, you
use some combination of the above. There are countless factors that
influence these decisions, not the least of which are how dynamic and
ephemeral your content is, how much of it there is, and how much you can
spend on it.
More from Doug:
"Second, contrived taxonomies typically associated with metadata are a
disaster. I've tested this, too. No one person--or committee--can design a
taxonomy for the ideas of others. Library science is inadequate for the
range of knowledge and thought are encountered with weblogs."
Weblogs are certainly diverse, and classification, as noted above, is no
panacea. But library science has done a passable job at classifying
something even broader than weblogs: the entirety of human knowledge that
is found in the Library of Congress. Sure, you'll find many problems with
LoC classification, but considering its age and non-digital inception, you
could do a lot worse. Certainly author-supplied keywords can be... a lot
Personally, I'm sure glad that that committee at the National Library of
Medicine came up MESH headings to represent the ideas of all those medical
researchers have been coming up with for years. Accessible medical research
might have been what saved my dad's life last summer.
Instead of throwing out babies with bathwater, we need to create value by
selecting and combining the subset of architectural approaches--search
engines and classification schemes included--that are most appropriate for
each unique situation.
I wish this damned pendulum would stop swinging soon.
John Kaye's blog posting ::
"Taxonomies are Chic" :: http://www.slabf.org/oxbrw114.PDF
Library of Congress Classification ::
Medical Subject Headings (MESH) :: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/mesh/meshhome.html
December 11, 2001: Dreaming of Links
This actually came to me in a dream. I was sitting in my childhood home in
Katonah, New York, talking with none other than Peter Merholz and Jesse
James Garrett (don't worry guys, you are definitely *not* regulars in my
dreams). I don't remember why we were there or what we were discussing, but
this came to me:
The humble hyperlink is really quite a useful string of text. It's not
unlike a user's search query. In fact, it often stands in for a user's
query. And, if I can use the term loosely, it's a form of author-supplied
indexing. At the same time! And authors are much happier to create links
within their content than to index them the old fashioned way. Meaning
there are lots of rich links out there that we might take advantage of.
So, a hyperlink is both:
* a form of indexing, as determined by content authors; and
* a query, when selected by a user.
But it gets better: a link can be a key to not one but *two* contexts:
* the content it represents (i.e., where it goes to); and
* the content where it occurs (i.e., its starting point).
Can we derive benefit from these characteristics? We already know that the
hyperlink creates a meaningful connection between two documents (the
starting point and the destination). So could we do something like this:
1) User clicks on link.
2) Link retrieves destination document.
3) User clicks on handy new "MORE" button in browser.
4) Link is then executed as a search query against a collection of documents
that are similar to the original "destination" document. Or similar to the
"starting point" document. Or both.
So, if we assume that a link is a query that moves us from Document 'a' to
Document 'b', perhaps we can extrapolate, using the same link to create
Document Collection 'A' and Document Collection 'B'? Can we use those new
collections to create context and reduce ambiguity as we continue our search
for that nice string of text embedded in the original link?
Obviously this approach won't work well when clicking on so generic a link
as "home page". But it might when clicking on a more precise link like
"bungee jumping". Or a generic link, like "job postings," where it would be
nice to narrow the possible set of search results by providing more context.
Anyway, it's probably either 1) been tried before and proven to be a really
dumb idea, or 2) so dumb an idea that it never was tried. But heck, it came
to me in a dream, and if it's really so dumb, Peter and Jesse deserve at
least part of the blame.
Katonah, NY :: http://www.katonahny.com/
Peter Merholz :: http://www.peterme.com
Jesse James Garrett :: http://www.jjg.net
Dec 12, 2001: Living Movable Typenicolor
Yee-hah! It's finally about to happen. In the next day or so, Bloug will
move to Movable Type. Permalinks, comments, swimmin' pools, movie stars...
Anything to keep certain people from griping.
Anyway, if you're experiencing technical difficulties, this might have
something to do with it...
Movable Type :: http://www.movabletype.org
That Certain Person :: http://peterme.com/archives/00000102.html
December 16, 2001: Selecting IA Components
This is a long entry, so I won't reproduce it here. Instead, click on
through to the other side:
"Hmmm...," you're thinking, "...that URL looks like a permalink..."
Well gosh darn; yes, it is! Meaning that, thanks to my pals at Studio
Mobius, I finally have a "real" blog. We've set up Movable Type so Bloug
can handle cool things like permalinks and, most importantly, *your*
Speaking of which, I'd really appreciate any input on today's entry. It's
either an initial stab at something good, or just me and my sidekick Sancho
tilting at windmills yet again.
December 18, 2001: What Exactly Are IA Components?
Another posting too long to reproduce here on the Blouglist, this is
actually a prequel to my last posting ("Selecting IA Components"). Today's
posting is available here:
By the way, I'm exceedingly happy to have comments now; thanks to those of
you who were both generous and brave enough to post your thoughts!
December 20, 2001: "Identity arises through self-reference."
Bloug Permalink and Comments ::
Lately, I've been up to my ears in "community building," mostly (but not
completely) through Info-Arch.Org. It's been quite a humbling experience. I
didn't dive in with many preconceptions or expectations, so frankly I'm
surprised by how pronounced my ignorance is.
I'd been hoping to encounter some deep new store of wisdom somewhere at the
intersection of Community Building Boulevard and Information Architecture
Alley. Maybe it'd be something that we could apply for the IA community as
we plunge ahead with developing a shared library, wiki-ing, coming up with a
site network, and souping up the SIGIA-L mailing list archive (among other
activities). Or maybe case study fodder for the second edition of the "polar
No such luck; designing information architectures for online communities
might be even trickier than it is for Fortune 50 intranets. I'd hoped to
find some incredible example that would serve as a model, but I'm still
looking; let me know if you have any suggestions.
I did contact Cam Barrett, the Very Smart Person behind Camworld. His
response to my email was so packed with ideas that he converted it into an
essay, now available from his site. Please read it. Cam isn't describing a
single community architecture, ideal or otherwise, but instead takes the
much more reasonable approach of describing aspects of online communities,
such as collaborative filtering and reputation management. He discusses each
briefly, and provides examples. When you encounter nasty overwhelming
problems, decompose! That's what Cam does in this essay.
Why is the title of this Bloug entry in quotes? These sage words come from
Steve Champeon, Webdesign-L list-mom, in an interview at Design for
Community.com, the site that complements Derek Powazek's book by the same
name. The interview mentions Steve's work on developing a mailing list
archive for Webdesign-L, and it sounds highly relevant to what we on the
SIGIA-L mailing list team have been trying to pull off. Perhaps we could
offer to trade ideas and labor on improving archive searching and browsing
in return for some of Steve's infrastructure.
In any case, it's a great quote: it describes perfectly what I'm hoping the
SIGIA-L list archive and the other Info-Arch.Org activities will help us to
achieve. Because although we may be a community, we still don't really know
who we are.
Info-Arch.Org :: http://www.info-arch.org/infrastructure/
IA Library :: http://www.info-arch.org/infrastructure/archives/000006.html
IA Wiki :: http://www.info-arch.org/infrastructure/archives/000006.html
IA Site Network ::
SIGIA-L Mailing List Archive :: http://www.info-arch.org/hypermail/sigia-l/
Camworld :: http://www.camworld.com
"Online Community Technologies and Concepts" ::
Webdesign-L Mailing List :: http://webdesign-l.com/
Steve Champeon Interview ::
Design for Community :: http://designforcommunity.com/buy/
SIGIA-L Mailing List Team ::
January 3, 2002: In Search Of...
...a really, really useful tech support site (or subsite). One that
actually has an information architecture that helps you find the answers you
need (not to mention the content to back those answers up). Please send me
1) a URL and 2) just a few words on what makes this site so good. Or just
comment below. The "winner" gets a signed polar bear book.
And by the way everyone: Happy New Year! Thank goodness 2001 is fini.
January 03, 2002: Disposable Information Architecture
A couple of Blougs ago, I mentioned the term "disposable information
architecture". I think it sounds kind of cool; who knows, maybe it'll catch
on and become a meme?
Hah! Just did!
Anyway, an example of disposable IA would probably be appreciated. Let's say
you're designing the information architecture for a blog. You plan on
implementing a search system for your blog entries at some point, but don't
have the time just yet. So you decide to set up a browsable index page to
serve as the site's archive.
Because you don't have that many blog entries yet, it doesn't really make
much sense to create something elaborate. Probably not many of your blog's
readers will bother using the archive anyway. Or maybe you don't have the
time or money to throw at it. After all, it's just a blog!
So you create a fairly simple-minded archive page that you know won't scale
forever. It's the best you can do for now, and you know you'll improve on
Voila: disposable information architecture!
Perhaps a better term would be "transitional information architecture," but
you get the point: sometimes just good enough will do. If you're in a hurry
and don't have much money to spend, it's OK to take a middling approach.
Just be sure that it's a stop along the way to something better, not a
permanent part of your site's architecture.
the recent Bloug entry mentioned ::
memes :: http://www.memecentral.com/
Bloug archive page (example of disposable IA) ::
January 5, 2002: Go Team
Bloug Permalink and Comments ::
(Just posted this to SIGIA-L; please excuse the duplication.)
Subject: perpetual hopeful push for progress
Hi all, happy new year and all that. Now that it's 2002, can I make a corny
If you're like me, you've already made the standard new year's resolutions,
like flossing more regularly, laying off the formaldehyde, not frightening
the neighborhood kids quite so much, and not burying strange things in the
root cellar at odd hours of the night.
But how about making a resolution to help build the information architecture
community and, I dare say, the profession?
There are already many great projects underway, many listed at
www.info-arch.org/infrastructure/. Some well underway, some stumbling
along, some just a gleam in your eye. And all opportunities to do ourselves
good. (See progress reports at www.info-arch.org/progress/.)
What if we could look back on 2002 as the year we got our shit together?
The year we built the most kick-ass mailing list archive the world has ever
seen? Ditto for a professional directory? A job board? An IA library? A
journal? A site network? Support services for local cocktail hours?
Wouldn't these be cool? Or if not cool, at least tediously valuable?
Even if we fail at these noble tasks, it's OK: we still get knit together
in the process of trying. And we learn good stuff in the process, like what
it takes to get distributed teams of volunteers to design and implement
information architectures for a distributed community. Plus there's always
the war stories to tell at the next cocktail hour. Or to tell your
Please think about what would make your life easier as an IA professional,
then have a look at http://www.info-arch.org/infrastructure/. If what
you're looking for is described there, hook up with the folks involved (or
let me know and I'll hook you up). If not, describe it there and get the
And while you're at it, don't forget to floss more regularly.
January 15, 2002: The Yin and Yang of Online Community IA
One of the case studies in the new edition of Information Architecture for
the World Wide Web will cover an online community's information
Because so many of these communities live and die by discussion (via mailing
lists, newsgroups, etc.), it's impossible not to consider discussion venues
a part of the community's information architecture. So any discussion of
online community IA shouldn't be limited to web sites.
Each online community has a yin (ephemeral discussion) and a yang (static
content--ranging from FAQs to articles--that the community stores on a web
site). And each community typically starts with one or the other, though in
my experience a community will ultimately accrue both.
Is my assumption correct? Can a community thrive with just discussion lists
or static content? Or is there a particular threshold in an online
community's lifespan where its is forced to add the yin to its existing
Bloug Permalink and Comments ::
January 18, 2002: Top Level Tiff
Everyone should know by now that there are new top-level domains abounding
(http://www.internic.net/faqs/new-tlds.html). Some, such as .biz, .info, and
.name, are operational; others, such as .aero, .pro (for certified
professionals), and .coop (for chickens) are being considered. These have
been devised to address the growing demand for domains, much like new area
codes help solve scaling problems for the telephone numbering system.
But like area codes, the scheme is klugey, patchy and probably quite
confusing for most. Granted, it's difficult to graft new terms onto an
established and recognized set (e.g., .com, .gov, .mil). But what exactly
should be the difference between nakedbungeejumping.com and
Confused? You'll just go to the InterNIC for the official definitions,
right? And when you're done, don't forget to talk to me about this bridge
I'm trying to sell...
These suffixes are practically synonymous. And as the current classification
scheme is already muddled, it's certain that the new suffixes will further
muddy the waters.
I'm going to play Jakob Nielsen for a moment and try out some numbers. I'll
preface by stating how silly I think these types of calculations really are.
(I'll save that rant for another Bloug entry.) But heck, they are simple to
do and just plain fun. So here goes:
Let's say that there are 100,000,000 regular users of the Web.
Let's say that each of them tries to look up a company's web site without
knowing the correct URL five times per year*. This would happen 500,000,000
times per year.
Let's say that 90% of the time, the domain name ending in ".com" is the
correct one*. If we eliminate those, we're left with 50,000,000 times per
year that users have to look beyond the ".com" suffix.
Let's say that those users become pretty confused by the new top-level
domain suffixes. They try different variants, and maybe, just maybe, they
figure out the correct URL.
Let's say that all this takes each of them about one minute*. So we have
50,000,000 minutes (or 833,000 hours or 34,722 days or about 1,141 months or
over 95 years) that are spent inefficiently due to confusion over the naming
And let's say that everyone's minute of time is worth twenty five cents.
That's not a lot: US$15 per hour, including benefits and use of the espresso
machine. So how much did those 50,000,000 minutes cost the global economy?
Hmmm. I did try to make my calculations err toward the conservative. But
$12.5M isn't as awful a number as I thought it would be. I thought there
would be at least one more zero. (That darned Jakob; his numbers are always
so much more interesting!)
I do know that I won't be happy wasting even those five minutes per year.
Especially if I don't succeed at figuring out the right URL. The cost of not
finding information is immeasurable.
And I'll bet dollars to donuts that the folks responsible for the top-level
domains did not hire the services of an information architecture, librarian,
or usability engineer to help design and test the scheme.
* Nope, not the product of actual user testing. My guess it that user
testing would produce scarier numbers than these.
Bloug Permalink and Comments ::
January 22, 2002: What Good is Information Architecture Anyway?
What's the canon of information architecture goodness? Put another way:
when you try to make the case for IA, what are your bullet points? Here's a
stab at a list; please add more in your comments:
* Reduces the cost of finding information
* Reduces the cost of finding wrong information
* Reduces the cost of not finding information at all
* Provides a competitive advantage
* Results in increased sales
* Improves brand loyalty
* Reduces reliance upon documentation
* Reduces maintenance costs
* Reduces training costs
* Reduces staff turnover
* Reduces organizational upheaval
* Reduces organizational politicking
* Improves knowledge sharing
* Reduces duplication of effort
* Solidifies business strategy
Bloug Permalink and Comments ::
January 25, 2002: In Information Architecture We Trust... NOT!
Ron Scheer has a short and interesting review of two studies that examine
broad, shallow hierarchies versus narrow, deep ones
(http://www.ronscheer.com/html/readingroom3.html). Ron's interpretation
fits what we've been hearing for a while now:
"Both studies support a growing belief that breadth beats depth. What they
don't show is what kind of breadth is best."
That last sentence is just jam-packed with endless possibilities. My hunch
is that there is at least one major and somewhat unexplored factor that
might offer a clue to which kind of breadth is best: information need
(i.e., are users performing known-item searches, exploratory searches). But
I'm not going any further down this path; too complicated, too messy.
Besides, I'm not sure that anyone really has the data to definitively prove
one thing or another at this point.
Instead I'm going to veer off into one of my favorite conspiracy theories.*
It goes like this: users prefer shallower, broader hierarchies not because
they're unwilling to click through multiple layers of hierarchy. Nope.
Users prefer shallow and broad because most site's information architectures
suck. This is the user's way of saying "Hey, based upon experience, I don't
trust you to do a good job of organizing your site. So just put all your
links on the main page, and me and my trusty Ctrl-F key will sort it out.
Paranoiac conspiracy theory? Of course! But can it be proven wrong?
* Hey, I'm an American, so I'm entitled to at least a couple conspiracy
theories. One of these days I'll tell you about my other theory, the one
that explains the history of huge and sudden increases in US gas prices
while Democratic presidents are running for reelection.
Bloug Permalink and Comments ::
January 28, 2002: The ROI of Information Architecture
Thank to everyone who discussed the value of information architecture this
past week (http://louisrosenfeld.com/home/bloug_archive/000067.html);
awesome! In under a week, we're already up to 17 comments. #17 comes from
somewhere up in the remotest part of northern England. That's where Paul
Nattress (I admit, I love that name), like many of us, wonders if all this
information architecture goodness can be converted into actual numbers (as
in dollars, euros, shekels):
"Lou - can we have a resource of arguments in favour of spending money on IA
Ask and ye shall receive.
The ROI of information architecture; is there really such a thing?
Certainly it would make our lives much easier. But can you really measure
the value of information architecture?
Keith Instone and I moderated "Measuring Information Architecture" at last
year's SIGCHI (http://keith.instone.org/measureia/), and we tried to
harangue our panelists into an answer. They responded admirably, and I
recommend you have a look at their brief Powerpoint presentations.
Better yet, if you have a killer idea on justifying investments in ROI, or
if you just think it's a fruitless pursuit, share your ideas here.
Bloug Permalink and Comments ::
January 31, 2002: Yahoo! Joins the Ranks of the Living Dead
In SFGate (http://www.sfgate.com/technology/beat/), Hal Plotkin writes:
In a regrettable move, Internet pioneer Yahoo! recently joined competitors
such as MSN.com, LookSmart and AltaVista in seeking payments from Web sites
that want to be included in their online directories.
Regrettable because, as Plotkin points out, there remains only one major
search or directory service (Google) that hasn't yet succumbed to payola.
All the others, including Yahoo!, now seamlessly mix editorial content with
paid advertising. Very sad that it's come to this.
Why did I prefix this posting with a hot dog icon, my warning to readers of
impending narcissism? So I could point you to an article I wrote in the
summer of 1995 called The Untimely Death of Yahoo
(http://www.ibiblio.org/cmc/mag/1995/sep/last.html). I predicted that
Yahoo! would succumb to scaling problems that would eventually render its
searching and browsing capabilities pretty near useless. In fact, I'd argue
that if those are a measure of Yahoo!'s mortality, then the service actually
died a few years ago. But by then Yahoo! had already redefined its business
model, parlaying the investments it received for being a directory into all
sorts of new services, ranging from free email to Yahoo! Life magazine, that
had nothing to do with its original foundation.
Now times are tougher, and Yahoo!'s other revenue streams can no longer
sustain this venerable old money pit. Dollars and cents, not searching and
browsing, are the final nails in the coffin. So sadly we must bid adieu to
Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle. Like the exclamation mark at the
end of Yahoo!, the directory's death in a way punctuates the end of the dot
Bloug Permalink and Comments ::
February 7, 2002: The Value of "Pay-For-Performance™ Search"
In the last Bloug entry
(http://louisrosenfeld.com/home/bloug_archive/000070.html#comments), my pal
Scott Brylow brought up an interesting point about overture.com
(http://www.overture.com), the site formerly known as goto.com.
Overture is up front about its business model, namely, charging clients for
placement in search results. In a nutshell, the client that bids the
highest gets listed most prominently.
My background is in information science and librarianship, so naturally such
blatantly commercial approaches make me break out in hives. Do users really
benefit when their queries retrieve the sites with the greatest financial
backing, rather than the ones that are most relevant?
But Scott claims it's working, and that overture.com has been able to
attract investment in these post-bubble days. (I typically believe whatever
Scott tells me.) So what's behind overture.com's success?
If any of you are overture.com fans, please tell me why (and I ask purely
out of respectful curiosity, not because I think you're a nutcase). Even if
you're not an overture.com user, post your favorite explanation here.
Oh, and I do have my own theory. Overture.com is still a small directory.
Naturally this means results sets are smaller, and perhaps users get the
impression that small result sets mean "filtered" results. In
overture.com's case, such "filtering" has nothing to do with quality, but
users may have the impression that fewer results mean quality.
If I'm right, then overture.com's business model won't scale if it continues
to attract clients--users will eventually retrieve too many results and the
sense of culling, artificial as it may be, will vanish.
But I'm probably completely wrong. Still, I'd bet that overture.com's
current success has more to do with its IA and UI than the company's
financial backers might realize, or be comfortable with...
Bloug Permalink and Comments ::
February 20, 2002: Back from Boca
Although it wasn't exactly beach weather, it was great to visit mom and dad
(hi folks!) in Florida this past week. Now to the home stretch for our book
manuscript. February 28 looms way too large. In the meantime, a few little
* Recommend a new laptop for Lou: It's time to retire my Dell Inspiron
3500. It's been a great workhorse, but it's quite heavy and scoliosis
sounds way too much like halitosis. The replacement would be used for
travel, work, home, everythang. I'm looking for something that's light (< 5
lbs.) *and* durable (does that eliminate the Sony Vaio?). 14" monitor is
plenty. And with a DVD for long flights. What do you recommend?
* A couple of CM pitches: If you don't already know about CMSWatch, you no
longer have an excuse. And while we're at it, go hear brainy Bob Boiko
keynote at ASIS&T's Content Management Symposium this June in Chicago. Or
submit your own talk.
* Michael Angeles for President: Just a year old, it's amazing how quickly
IAslash has become indispensable to so many of us. Equally amazing how
Michael didn't burn out after six weeks. Buy some IAslash stuff to show
Michael that you care.
Bloug Permalink and Comments ::
CMSWatch :: http://www.cmswatch.com/
Bob Boiko :: http://www.metatorial.com/
ASIS&T Content Management Symposium ::
ASIS&T CM Symposium Call for Speakers ::
IAslash :: http://www.iaslash.org/ia/
IAslash schwag ::
Just address an email to blougList@yahoogroups.com
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